The daughter of Alfonso VIII of Castile (part of present-day Spain) and granddaughter to one of the Medieval periods most infamous couple, Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, Blanche of Castile (1188 – 1252) certainly lived up to the legacy of her powerful and famous family.
At the age of 12 she married the heir to the throne of France, the future Louis VIII. The marriage was to seal an alliance between Louis’ father, Philip II Augustus of France and Blanche’s uncle, King John of England. Little did John know it would be his undoing. John had inherited a huge empire stretching from the border with Scotland to the Pyrenees but his weak grip on his continental territories meant he had lost most of it to Philip. By the time Blanche was 16, Philip had his eyes set on England, using Blanche’s connection to the throne through her mother (John’s sister).
The nobles in England were tired of John; as well as committing acts considered heinous even for a medieval King (such as the murder of his nephew) he had lost huge parts of his empire, and in exasperation they offered the throne of England to Louis and Blanche. Everything was going well and John was steadily losing ground to Louis, when John suddenly died of dysentery. The English nobles had a change of heart and most threw their support behind John’s eldest son, the 13 year old Henry, who was crowned Henry III. Louis and Blanche’s plans were disappointed, but they had their first taste of power.
Blanche was close to her father-in-law, and arguably learnt about statecraft from his example. When he died in 1223, Louis and Blanche ascended to the throne at the age of 35. Louis leant heavily on his wife, trusting her opinion above all others; courtiers knew that to get the ear of the King they first needed the approval of the Queen. The couple had five children together, including the future Louis IX (also known as Saint Louis).
Sadly for Blanche, Louis died just three years into his reign after contracting dysentery while on crusade in the south of France. Louis had left a will stating Blanche was to be regent for their son, the 12 year old Louis. Blanche acted fast, knowing she and her young son would be perceived as vulnerable: Louis was crowned just 3 weeks after his father’s death. Blanche spent the first 4 years of Louis’ reign securing power and fighting off threats. Blanche’s biggest threat was the illegitimate son of her father-in-law, Philip Hurepel. He lead a rebellion against Blanche and her son, which she fought off. She also fought off an English invasion, leading the French army whilst dressed all in white, on a white horse.
When her son came of age, Blanche and Louis ruled together. She continued to be involved in government, never relinquishing control, not even to her son’s wife, Margaret of Provence. When Louis went on crusade to the Holy Land, Blanche was 60. Louis left his mother as regent and with the responsibility of caring for his children, showing the level of trust he had in her. Blanche died at the age of 64, while her son was still on crusade.